part-time musings

Tag: oral history

How to stop worrying and love interviewing

This morning a colleague and good friend of mine sent me a link to an interview with Brian Eno in an email she had called ‘How Not to Interview’. She knew I’d like it because we’ve recently worked together on a project where between us we interviewed around 70 people. Many of these were Very Important People and frequently – particularly when we were conducting interviews on behalf of other colleagues – the interviews dealt with subjects on which we had only the most superficial prior knowledge. Also, because of the nature of the project, we’d not infrequently be conducting several of these interviews a day, in circumstances that Introduction to Oral History 101 would describe as less than ideal. Believe me, when it’s nine o’clock at night and you’re on your sixth interview and you’re in a crowded hotel lobby bar in Nairobi, you find yourself struggling through even the routine formalities of the paperwork and the equipment checks.

But looking back on these interviews and others I’ve done – probably around 200 in the course of my career now – I gained two important insights that I’ll share with you. The first is that no matter how good your equipment the sudden appearance of a brass band will almost certainly ruin your interview.  The second is that its listening that makes good interviews.  The interviews where I felt under-prepared frequently turned out to be the most interesting.  This is because I was forced into a position of having to truly listen and build my questions around what the interviewee was telling me.  Seems like an obvious point doesn’t it? But having heard, read, and transcribed a lot of interviews I can tell you that it usually doesn’t happen. This interview with Brian Eno is an excellent example of what I’m talking about and should be compulsory viewing on any Introduction to Oral History course.


How shoppers helped invent the supermarket

Some research I worked on in 2007 as part of the Reconstructing Landscapes Project has been developed into an article co-authored with Andrew Alexander and published this month by the journal, Enterprise and Society. In ‘Co-Creation of a Retail Innovation’, we examined shoppers’ reactions to the development of early supermarket retailing in post-war Britain and drew on insights from recent research on the role of consumers in innovation to show that more attention needs to be given to the shopper’s input in the debate on retail innovation, including the supermarket.

Shoppers’ contributions to the supermarket innovation are shown to be multi-faceted in nature, incorporating processes of co-production and value creation; processes that were altered in the transition from counter-service to self-service retail environments. Shoppers’ discussions of such alterations were frequently structured around four aspects of interaction; with the physical environment of the store, with the goods for sale, with other shoppers and with shop staff. Continue reading more….

Shop Talk

Oral History Journal vol 37 2009My article ‘Investigating Shopper Narratives on the Supermarket in Early Post-War England, 1945-75’ has just been published in the March issue of Oral History.

The article looks at the complexities surrounding consumer reaction to changes in food shopping between 1945 and 1975 and is based on research we did for the Reconstructing Consumer Landscapes Project. The article introduces approaches to understanding consumers, and looks, in particular, at the reactions of consumers to the self-service retail innovation and the rise of supermarkets when they were introduced in Britain in the early post-war period. The article highlights some of the strengths we observed in our use of oral history interviewing for this type of research, and we also discuss our use of a content analysis approach to analyze material from the interviews.